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Education - Let's Celebrate Choice and Diversity

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It's a stressful time of year for any English parent that has a child starting primary school this September. The all-important deadline to submit school applications is just days away. Miss it and your local authority will place the child in any local school that has a place. Needless to say, this is unlikely to be one of the better ones.

My wife and I recently went through the application process on behalf of our eldest daughter. We've listed our schools in order of preference and all we can do is hope and pray she gets a place at one of the schools we've requested. It's going to be a tense time while we wait for the outcome.

While there's no doubt the whole process is stressful, it has, for me, unearthed an element of the English state school system that should be celebrated. It strikes me that we don't acknowledge or celebrate how diverse our education system is. We've all become obsessed with league tables and Ofsted reports and fail to appreciate that every school has a different approach and ethos and the benefits this brings.

It's almost as if parents and education authorities are in league to pressure schools to become universally good and produce universally good results. The schools themselves seem to be waging a cold war against this as they try to keep an individual ethos and stand out as individual institutions for the benefit of the pupils.

My wife and I visited a huge number of schools. We saw several state schools plus voluntary aided church schools of different denominations. I should add that we also saw the one independent fee paying school but decided not to go down that route at this point in time, although we were very tempted.

While some might see this as a negative thing, every state school was different, in some cases radically so. We saw the one state school that put a real emphasis on friendship and was known as being a warm, welcoming place. The church schools all put emphasis on building community, didn't seem quite so hung-up on league tables and made greater effort to celebrate success.

There were a couple of other schools we saw that had superb facilities and really pushed the pupils hard to achieve. It struck me that being very pushy and having good facilities seemed to go hand in hand for some reason. If I'm really honest, these pushy schools seemed a little too obsessed with meeting Government targets and so we've applied elsewhere. It's easy to criticise this approach, but I can appreciate some kids need to be pushed so it might be a good fit for these individuals.

I'd be the first to admit the English system of state schools, voluntary aided schools, free schools, academies and so in is incredibly complex. It's easier elsewhere in the UK. My Scottish in-laws tell me "you just go to your closest school" north of the border.

Having done the rounds of school visits, however, I'm not convinced the Scots have the correct approach. I'm glad that in England we have a choice because every family and every child is different. Parents at least have a chance of finding the school that best meets their child's needs.

The real test is whether your application is successful and your child gets a place at the school you wish them to attend. This is the one major down side to the English system, especially in the South East where demand for school places outstrips supply.

Those of us going through the application process will have to wait until April to find out if we've been successful. I'm sure we'll all have the occasional sleepless night over the next few months while we wait for the results. I wish everyone success and I'll write a follow-up post from the 'other side'.